Talmud this Shabbat: Having Faith When Faith is Hard to Have–The Prophecy of Habakkuk


In some ways, Habakkuk channels the angst of a pandemic age. A deeply disrupted present. A deeply uncertain future. No clear path to a better place. And it feels like he has been stuck in that muck forever. Here is how his prophecy begins:

How long, O lord, shall I cry out
And You not listen,
Shall I shout to You, “Violence!”
And You not save? (1:2)

Habakkuk lives in the era of an ascendant Babylon. He decries how Babylon conquers and slaughters nation after nation, and Judea is next. Meanwhile God does absolutely nothing:

Why do You countenance treachery,
And stand by idle
While the one in the wrong devours
The one in the right? (1:13)

The pathos of Habakkuk is that he wants to have faith in God, but the world cries out just the opposite: Godlessness. Might makes right. The vicious are the victors. The righteous are the dead.

Our sages picked Habakkuk as the Haftarah for the second day of Shavuot. Somehow, the Haftarah ends with the prophet’s affirmation of faith. The world did not change. He lives on the eve of the destruction of the First Temple, the burning of Jerusalem, the murder of its residents, and the exile of those who survived. He feels the dreaded end in the air. But something within the prophet himself changed. He has faith.

Yet I wait calmly for the day of distress,
For a people to come to attack us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
And no yield is on the vine,
Though the olive crop has failed
And the fields produce no grain,
Though sheep have vanished from the fold
And no cattle are in the pen,
Yet will I rejoice in the Lord,
Exult in the God who delivers me.
My Lord God is my strength:
He makes my feet like the deer’s
And lets me stride upon the heights. (3:16-19)

Look at the two yets italicized above. Yet I wait calmly for the day of distress, for a people to come to attack us. (verse 16) And Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, Exult in the God who delivers me (verse 18). How do these two verses work together? How does he wait, pit in stomach, for an enemy to destroy his homeland and, at the same time, he rejoices in he Lord?

How do we have faith when faith is hard to have?

The texts from Habakkuk are here.

See you Shabbat morning at 8:30. Gann Chapel Livestream.

Fondly,
Wes